CALL ME SNARLING AND THIN-SKINNED, but for years the Eurovision Song Contest has made me ponder the benefits of a snap in-out referendum. All that talent, all those costumes, all that electricity – and for what?
That’s why, when David Cameron goes off to Brussels to explain that the UK – the most unequal country in the EU – needs to be treated differently from all the other losers, I’d like him to put Eurovision on the table.
What he should demand is both startlingly simple and game-changing.
As a quid pro status quo for us continuing to help everyone else, we should insist on Eurovision entries being given more of a steer. Like a theme. For example “The Environment And What We Should Do to Look After It”.
I expect you can see straight away how this would work out on so many levels. For one thing it would quickly rule out any song that uses made-up words like bingy or bongy etc, which have no obvious relevance to the environment. Or anything really.
For another, it would take the guesswork out of Eurovision night: even if the lyrics still didn’t make loads of sense, at least the judges would have a starting point to help them figure out what’s going on. The combined effect would be to make the finals a bit shorter, which would save time.
The third reason is perhaps more subtle – but I’d argue the most important: insisting that Eurovision entries deal with the environment would kick-start a new era for the eco-protest song. It would fill the vacuum created by artists such as Michael Jackson and Olivia Newton-John who’ve already turned their artistic gaze on the planet.
Think of it: each year we’d be able to look forward to literally dozens of new songs that remind us to wake up, think about what we’re doing and notice some children.
Knock-on benefits for the economy as a whole would include growth and making families work harder: new home-based and flexible algorithm-rich businesses springing up to meet the need for new and innovative words to rhyme with ‘Earth’ or ‘mother’ or ‘flood’, or ‘ice’ – for example ‘nice’. If you’ve never tried writing an environmental protest song I can tell you it’s not as easy or as rewarding as it might sound: what, for example, would you rhyme with denier, sceptic, divestment, renewable obligation certificate, pesticide? Not that rhyme is the be-all and end-all of a song. But we’re talking about Eurovision – there are standards.
And it’s no news that standards have been slipping. Virtually any country can enter now. How is the UK – the country that gave the world pop – ever supposed to win this competition if all you have to do is sing about feelings?
Ultimately, though, this is about innovation – and we know from other areas of public life like education and health and railways and the nuclear industry how competition, a playing field and a clearly repeated vision by someone with a job can deliver innovative experiences for the consumer. Just like the Olympics or the Duke of Edinburgh award or Asbos, this New Vision for Eurovision would harness a generation.
For the government it’s a win-win: a riposte to those carpers who query whether they’re doing enough to the environment, it would also placate those who are pre-imagining Britain’s relationship with Europe re-imagined. And it would say to people who like other countries that the UK thinks there’s a role for other countries too.
How hard is it?
A step too far, you might say. Can we really expect Europe’s top songwriters to write songs that have a point?
I used to ask that question too. Not any more. Because I’m hearing Eurovision in a new and different key – and if you can be bothered to read the rest of my incredible story, you might hear it differently too.
It all began when Sustainababblers Ollie and Dave got me on their splendid Sony-destined podcast to figure out where all the protest songs have gone. And to explore whether there are any decent protest songs about the environment. They also reminded me that the final of Eurovision 2015 is this Saturday (23 May).
Which is when something remarkable happened.
Looking back over Eurovision winners from previous decades, a hunch quickly became a fully-bloated theory. What I discovered hit me with the force of a relatively accurate exit poll.
I realised that Eurovision has always featured a not insignificant number of protest songs about the environment. Or at least some had titles that sound like green protest songs even if the actual songs sound, superficially, as if they’re about the transience of romantic love.
But don’t just take my word for it. Look at a sample of Eurovision winners down the centuries – then tell me these do not constitute a blueprint for the ongoing future of a new Eurovision:
- 1970: Dana’s “All Kinds of Everything” – a hymn to biodiversity and the resilience that resides therein.
- 1971: Severine’s “Un Banc, un Arbre, une Rue” (a bench, a tree, a street) is all about 106 planning gain. Otherwise why?
- 1984: Ireland’s entry “Terminal 3” – anti-airports expansion that you can punch the air to. True, it might have had more punch if they’d added ‘No’ at the beginning of the sentence.
- 1988: Celine Dion – “Ne partez pas sans moi” (Don’t leave without me) – she doesn’t have to say out loud ‘if you’re running for the hills or leaving planet Earth to colonise Mars’ because like all great songs, we just know in our hearts what they mean.
- 1991: Sweden’s “Fångad av en stormvind” (“Captured by a storm wind”) – freak weather. Sometimes the obvious is worth stating.
- 2000: Denmark – “Fly on the Wings of Love” – not an aeroplane? The best songwriters know that what you leave out is as important as what you include – because it encourages your audience to think for themselves.
See what I mean? Eurovision has always had a powerful environmental undercarriage.
It gets better.
The 2015 entries include:
- “Walk Along” from The Netherlands. We know they’re into cycling. Now at last they’re using Eurovision to get the rest of us to think about sustainable transport policy.
- “Autumn Leaves” – A nature’s-lovely ballad from Macedonia. (Does Eurovision allow Nat King Cole covers these days?)
- “One Last Breath” from Greece – This is either about air quality in Athens or the old last-chance-in-the-fiscal-saloon narrative.
- “Goodbye to Yesterday” – Estonia reckons the game is up. Or perhaps it’s a positive message about the future. Who knows?
- “Chain of Lights” from San Marino. Humble but practical, this must be about putting up LED fairy lights to save energy.
- Portugal, meanwhile, are unafraid of the big issues, tackling sea-level rise with “There’s an Ocean Between Us”.
- Norway revisit the green guilt-trip (did I put the recycling out?) with “A Monster Like Me”
- Azerbaijan take on rewilding with “Hour of the Wolf”. (This might actually be true)
- And with “Time to Shine” Switzerland remind us of the urgency of switching to solar power.
When it comes to a green winner this year, my money is on Boggie of Hungary who offers us “Wars for Nothing”. As there’s no apostrophe in that title I’m not sure if we’re being offered conflict for free or a rehash of Frankie’s sentiment that, whatever you pay for it, war is good for absolutely nothing. Or maybe Boggie is against war and punctuation. But in any case the song contains the pithy revelation “Do you know our Earth is a mess?”
And in a 3-hour songathon which consists almost entirely of green rabble rousers, this simple, pretty tune is a nailed-on 12-pointer.
So the precedent is there. Many previous Eurovision winners have shown it’s not that hard to write a song about the environment. All we need to do is really listen to what we, the great collective Eurovoice, have been singing to ourselves all along. A clear noise-cancelling melody. A new aural vision for Eurovision that would hear us all singing songs from the same song sheet and offering some clarity in these mashed up times. We could call it something like Eurecoprotision.
But that’s just an idea. Come and discuss the title and what the logo should look like at:
Song, Sorcery and Cake
The Betsey Trotwood
56 Farringdon Road
Monday 25 May 2015, 8pm
Next time on this blog I’ll introduce you to some tunes that prove environmental protest songs don’t have to make your nose bleed.